Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbe­liev­able Andy Kaufman

Box Brown
  • Review
By – November 5, 2018

In his short, dynam­ic life, Andy Kauf­man became the mas­ter of the anti-joke and the art of decep­tive intro­spec­tion. In his stage act, and on film and TV, he curat­ed the per­sona of a deviant but mer­ry prankster, a cad who rev­eled in peo­ple not get­ting the joke. His impec­ca­ble tim­ing and fear­less tech­nique made peo­ple ques­tion his san­i­ty and his inten­tions. But who was the man behind the mask of com­e­dy? Was he the demi­urge of the mod­ern stand-up com­ic, or was his artis­tic ambi­tion noth­ing more than the pri­mal response of laugh­ter? Or, was there an ele­ment deep inside that could nev­er be sati­at­ed, even with the admi­ra­tion of the public?

The enig­mas behind Kaufman’s pub­lic facade are explored, but nev­er answered, in Box Brown’s graph­ic nov­el Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbe­liev­able Life of Andy Kauf­man. With a stark, two-tone, min­i­mal­ist aes­thet­ic that jux­ta­pos­es Kaufman’s col­or­ful career, Brown presents a pseu­do-biog­ra­phy of the com­e­dy leg­end that nev­er delves into hagiog­ra­phy, styl­ish­ly pre­sent­ing Kaufman’s kinks and show­biz dreams. Espe­cial­ly intrigu­ing is Brown’s focus on Kaufman’s obses­sion with wrestling, and how it influ­enced his comedy.

While Kauf­man may have played a sim­ple-mind­ed char­ac­ter on stage, he thought­ful­ly craft­ed his com­ic per­sona. Even more than com­e­dy, the osten­ta­tion of wrestling — which Kauf­man imbibed through­out his life­time — helped him expand the ridicu­lous­ness of his stage act, and devel­op his pro­fes­sion­al reputation.

Brown’s art­work, which has almost a man­ga-ish feel, is strik­ing in its min­i­mal­ism and bold­ness. The thick lines and car­toon­ish look of the char­ac­ters fit­ting­ly offer the book a child­like sense of won­der. Every­thing that hap­pens in Kaufman’s life seems to be the result of a juve­nile fan­ta­sy come true: from obsess­ing about wrestling to becom­ing involved in a (staged) imbroglio with a wrestling leg­end, from using accents to make fam­i­ly laugh to mak­ing the nation laugh.

Kaufman’s trag­ic demise only plays a minor role in the nar­ra­tive; his sur­pris­ing rise to promi­nence and leg­end is the real focus here. And while this is far from a glitzy Hol­ly­wood sto­ry, Kaufman’s pres­ence shines bright enough through­out that read­ers won’t have to look far for the man on the moon” to beam down from these pages.

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